Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Ghosts of Mortis" (Ep. 3.17)

-- He who seeks to control fate shall never find peace.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

The Force is no longer in balance.

If you haven't watched the previous two episodes of this arc, you should really go do that. While I will try to keep spoilers from this episode mostly out of this post, I need to be able to refer back to the other episodes. Seriously, if you are any kind of Star Wars fan, these three episodes are a must.

As we were watching this one, my son said to me in reference to the Father, Son, and Daughter, "Are these physical entities or embodiments of the Force?" My best answer: Yes. That the Daughter is dead, murdered by the Son, spells disaster for the galaxy and the universe. Interestingly, in the previous episode, the Father spoke repeatedly of the danger to the galaxy if the Son was able to escape the planet Mortis but, this episode, after the death of the Daughter, the Father has escalated his warning to a danger to the universe.

The question in all of this is what it means that Anakin is the Chosen One. In the last episode, Anakin refused to take up his role as the person who would maintain the balance in the Force, that balance being the equivalence between the Son and the Daughter. Obviously, the choice Anakin had was real, and his decision not to take his place had dire consequences. Will have dire consequences.

And, now, they have to keep the Son from escaping Mortis so that he doesn't wreak havoc across the galaxy.

So, what we know based on the previous episode: The Dark Side is in ascendance. The Light Side, effectively, at least for now, is dead.

To say more would be to give too much away.

"I am an old fool who believed he could control the future."

Monday, July 25, 2016

How the System Failed My Son: Part Eight -- Breaking Out

Yeah, yeah. Just go back and read. Or don't. But don't complain about not knowing what's going on if you don't. No, I'm not providing all the links, because you're all smart people and can find the posts.

In the end, we were left with only two options: continue as we had been doing, the equivalent of throwing ourselves and our son against a large brick wall and hoping to make a doorway, or find some other way, something that was non-system. We figured we'd been bruised up enough by the wall and would look for a way around.

As an aside:
California has what is called the CHSPE, the California High School Proficiency Exam; it is exactly what it sounds like. It is a test to see if you possess the minimum requirements that they expect you to gain in high school. Passing the test is the same as a high school diploma. The only problem is that you have to be 16 to take the test. We weren't looking at that as an option.

But let me tell you a little bit about the test so that you can understand the extent of what I'm talking about when I say that the system is broken.

The CHSPE covers only two subjects: English and math. There's no history. No science. No arts or physical education. If you only need English and math to "pass" high school, why do we require all of these other subjects as part of graduating? And the math is pretty basic, algebra and a small amount of geometry. Stuff my son completed in middle school. The English, also, is pretty basic. That this is all that is required to pass this test tends to affirm my assertion that high school is mostly a waste of time.


We began looking at alternatives, because homeschooling was not an option. Homeschooling, in the general sense of it, requires that you enter into a certified program which, essentially, means you will be doing all of the normal things you would be doing at school but you'd be doing them at home instead. It is the same kind of drudge work we were trying to bypass.

This is an important thing to take note of. The reason for this, which I learned by talking to a few people at our school board, is because if you are not in a certified homeschool course then you can't actually get credit for any of it if you ever decide to return to regular school. You would have to start back where you left off.

The thing we eventually hit upon was something called "unschooling." I'm not going to explain it; you can click the link if you want to know what it is. What I will say about it is that the main guy I spoke to at the school board, the guy who deals with homeschooling and related "alternative" schooling methods, strongly counselled against anything that wasn't a certified program, and unschooling is not. It's not even a "program."

So we were all prepared for that.

Somewhere in there we discovered, though, that there was an exception to the age qualification on taking the CHSPE. The student must be 16 years of age OR must have completed 10th grade. So, well, my son has completed 10th grade. We signed him up to take the test.

I want to reiterate that he is 15 years old.

As I write this, he took the exam this past Saturday. His reaction to it was that it was easy. Granted, we don't know that he passed, but I'm going to operate under the assumption that he did (by the time this posts, we should have the results of the test). Which brings me back to the point of high school being mostly superfluous. Even within the parameters of the test for an average teenager, it is implied that a student should be able to pass the test by the time s/he has finished her/his sophomore year of high school, which is age 16 for most students.

Why, then, do we do high school at all?

Because it's tradition. And, sure, you could expound on all the conventional reasons for doing high school, but all of those come down to tradition. This is how it's done and, therefore, this is how you should do it. However, that's only true if you let it be true.

So we're proceeding, at the moment, with what is basically the unschooling path although we're also assuming that my son has passed high school. He is already hip deep in a (free online) Harvard programming course and having a lot of fun with that. At some point, probably sooner rather than later, we'll be looking into classes at the local community college for him.

All of which brings me to my point:
If my 15-year-old son can take and pass the CHSPE, then there's something very wrong with the system. That there were no avenues for him within the system shows that there is something wrong with the system. That there is this test and it is not presented as a viable option for every student shows that there is something wrong with the system. That the vast majority of what students are required to do in high school is considered nonessential by the state shows that there is something wrong with the system.

In fact, I would say that there is everything wrong with the system.

Right now, the plans for fixing the system mostly have to do with pumping money into it. And, while it's true that there are parts of the system that are in dire need of funds, that general response is about fixing the system by doing it harder. By banging yourself up against the wall over and over again hoping to break through. What we really need is a new system. We all need to be unschooled.

"Unlearn what you have learned."

[I also want to point out that everything with my son is better now. Since we decided back in January to explore other avenues for him, he has come back to himself. Rather than the constant battling over homework and the forcing him to buckle under and do what he "needs to do," we have our old, pleasant child back who is affectionate and jokey and fun to be with. We can do things as a family again. It is all well worth it.]

Update: We received the results of his test last week, and he passed. Not just passed; he totally aced the test. I want to point out, specifically, that he got a 5 on the essay part of the exam (the highest you can get on their 0 to 5 scale). I also want to reiterate that my son is 15. And, now, a high school graduate. So tell me again: What is the point of traditional high school?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Rebels: "Gathering Forces" (Ep. 1.8)

"Make it your specialty and make it fast or this ship becomes a real ghost!"

The Inquisitor is hot on the heels of the crew of the Ghost chasing after a cybernetically enhanced rodian who has inadvertently stolen Imperial plans. At least, that's who he's supposed to be chasing, because the information the rodian is carrying is significant: blue prints for top secret weapons, deployment schedules, what the Emperor eats for breakfast. Okay, so I'm kidding on that last bit; it's what the Inquisitor eats for breakfast. Fine, still kidding. It's important stuff, though, and the Empire wants it back.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Tseebo, the rodian, and Ezra have a history, one Ezra is not prepared to forgive. Then there's the fact that, no matter how important the information Tseebo has is, the Inquisitor is more interested in bringing down Kanan and his Padawan. Kanan uses that to his advantage which, of course, puts him and Ezra into harms way.

A was not completely happy with the episode "Out of Darkness," as I said in that review a couple of weeks ago. This episode somewhat redeems that one by bringing elements of that episode back into the plot. "Gathering Forces" reaches back and elevates what felt like a mostly disposable episode at the time by giving it a larger purpose in the scheme of things. That's the kind of thing I like in story telling, where things that seem insignificant at the time return later and show their importance. Not that this is incredibly significant, but it's enough so to make it interesting.

So the show has bounced back up in my estimation, especially with the conclusion of this episode, showing that things are going to be a bit more complex than what is normal for just a kids' show.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ghostbusters (a movie review post)

I feel like a movie review should not be a place for political commentary unless, you know, the movie has to do with politics. Or commentary. Or some combination of those things. I feel like I should be able to review this movie on the merits of itself as a movie. However, a certain contingent of inflammatory misogynists have made that impossible. There is no legitimate way to address this movie and the fact that it has women in it and not just in it but starring in it as the main characters.

So... Let's talk about the fact that there are four women starring in it and that some people seem to have let that "destroy" their childhoods:
1. If that they have cast the leads in the new Ghostbusters as women has caused your testicles to get all knotted up, the problem is clearly with you, and you need to go take a long look at yourself in the mirror and figure out what your own issues are. Or see a therapist and discuss your mommy issues. Or something.
2. It's a movie! Oh, wait, let me rephrase that: It's a fucking movie! If you are actually bent out of shape and allowing a movie made more than 30 years after the original to retroactively destroy your childhood, then, again, you need to take yourself back to that mirror and figure out what your problem is. I mean, this isn't Star Wars; it's not that important. Oh, wait, if you were one of those guys who allowed the prequels to "rape" your childhood (that is the way those guys put it, right?), you still need to be in front of that mirror. It's not like them putting in a new cast for this movie changes the experience you had of the original.
3. I find it unsurprising but somewhat interesting that the demographic screaming about the women stars of this movie are the same demographic who support Trump, which also matches the demographic who voted yes on the Brexit vote. It reduces all of this to a white, male power thing, and I'm just going to say that the only people threatened by equality are those who have had an unfair advantage. Again, go look at yourself in the mirror and don't come away from it until you can recognize that you're not better than other people and the fact that you feel threatened is entirely on you. And it's a fucking movie! It's not like it's walking up to you on the street and punching you in the balls. Then, you'd have a right to complain. There shouldn't even be any metaphoric balls involved in this.

Speaking of all of this, one of the most brilliant moments in the movie is when they're reading actual comments people (men) made about the movie just from the announcement that it would have a female cast.

And speaking of the women, they, also. were brilliant. I already love Kristen Wiig, and she doesn't disappoint. Ironically, this is a somewhat more serious role for her in that it doesn't rely on her particular brand of awkwardness as the basis for her character. She has her moments, but it's a more three-dimensional part than what she's known for (and so much more satisfying than her recent role in The Martian).

Melissa McCarthy is also a bit more toned down for Ghostbusters. Despite her initial appearance wearing some weird gizmo hat, she is the voice of reason in the movie. She wears the part well. Which is not to say that she turns off the funny, because she doesn't. He ongoing feud with Bennie, the Chinese delivery guy. is great.

I was unfamiliar with both Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones before seeing this, so I have nothing to compare to in regards to their performances, but they were both great, especially Kate McKinnon. In many ways, McKinnon stole every scene she was in by being this crazy professor type, kind of a cross between Doc Brown from Back to the Future and Dr. Frankenstein from Young Frankenstein with a dash of Q (the James Bond one). And that might make it sound like Leslie Jones is the weak link here, but she's totally not. The four women worked well together bringing the same kind of chemistry to the screen as the original quartet of men did.

But let's talk about the movie in general:
I laughed. A lot. To put it more specifically, I laughed throughout the movie, and, for a movie meant to be a comedy, it did its job. More than did its job. In fact, I probably laughed more in this one than I ever did in the original.

Which is not to say it doesn't provide some scares. The opening scene is pretty scary, and I thought for a moment that my daughter was going to ask to leave, it freaked her out so much.

Speaking of the opening scene, it features Zach Woods, who is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Mostly, I know him for his own special brand of awkward but, in his smaller roles,he's shown that he's capable of more than that. This is no exception.

And then there's Chris Hemsworth. He's almost worth the price of admission himself. I really didn't expect much from Hemsworth after Thor. I mean, he was a great Thor -- he was Thor -- but I figured that kind of role was all he was ever going to bring to the table, but he's shown that he has a lot of range, and his role has the clueless receptionist was fantastic.

The only real negative I have is...

Oh, wait, this is a spoiler, so close your ears and say "la la la" or something.

The only real negative I have about the movie is the bad guy:
1. That there was a "bad guy" at all, and
2. That the actor playing the bad guy lacked any real menace. In fact, the only good part with the bad guy was once he had possessed Kevin, and that part was hilarious.

I don't really know why I dislike there being a villain, but it just felt a little too convenient, I guess. And it was so much "the world hasn't been fair to me, waaah!" He was just lame, I suppose. It would have been better if it had just been the ghosts driving the conflict.

The movie is a winner, though, despite the lackluster villain. Unless you just have no sense of humor or can't get over the fact that there are no y chromosomes among the leads, there is no reason you shouldn't like this movie.

Oh, and the cameos are great.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Altar of Mortis" (Ep. 3.16)

-- He who surrenders hope surrenders life.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

"Is the Dark Side stronger?"
"No! Quicker, easier, more seductive."

In the context of the original trilogy of Star Wars movies, we tend to just accept that Yoda is right. Yoda is always right. And, at one point, he probably was right. Well, definitely, at one point, he was right. The Force was in balance, kept that way through the will of the Father. However, by the time Yoda is stating this to Luke, that the Dark Side is not stronger, the Force is out of balance, and the Dark Side is most definitely in ascendance. The Son has shifted the balance.

There's also what is probably very important stuff with Ahsoka. Definitely foreshadowing. I know that Ahsoka comes back in Rebels, though I'm not that far into it, yet, but I don't know if this has to do with what is going to happen there or if it has to do with anything that's going to happen in the new trilogy [There has been a lot of speculation and rumors about Ahsoka appearing in the episode eight or nine.] or if it's just a plot line that got left blowing in the wind due to Disney dropping Clone Wars. Whether it comes back or not is immaterial, I suppose, considering it's good stuff in this episode.

All of this is also a direct repercussion of Anakin turning down his role as the Chosen One. In the typical story of this nature, the "chosen one" character ends up being compelled in some way to take up the role, but, as we saw last episode, Anakin refused to be the guy to maintain the balance in the Force. Which begs the question, "Is he still the Chosen One?" Does what happens later in both Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi come out of his status as Chosen One or is it because of his refusing to be that person?

I hope in some way Star Wars addresses what happens in this trilogy arc.

Monday, July 18, 2016

"From Beyond" (a book review post)

First, yes, I am still working my way through these; I just haven't read any in a couple of months. The one thing I'm discovering about Lovecraft is that all of his stories are only of a few varieties. Over time, it makes them all blur together. The break was not purposeful; it was because every time I opened the book I found I didn't feel like reading Lovecraft at that moment, knowing exactly what to expect. I don't know if it was having had a break from him or if this was a better story than the average, but I enjoyed this one more than the last few that I read (ones I didn't bother to review individually because of a lack of things to say about them).

"From Beyond" has a slight twist on most of the stories I've read by Lovecraft so far while still having the same basic foundation. It's a story about a man, Crawford Tillinghast, who has developed a way to see the hidden worlds all around us. In this, it is very similar to most other Lovecraft stories but, in execution, it is most like "The Terrible Old Man."

This is not a new thought for me, but it's one I don't believe I've stated before in any of the Lovecraft reviews I've done:
Lovecraft seems to owe a lot to Robert Louis Stevenson and his Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Not that I know that Lovecraft read Stevenson, but I find it difficult to imagine that he would not have considering the similarities between the two authors in their physical conditions (both sickly) and the similarity in style of most of Lovecraft's short stories to Jekyll & Hyde. That style being an unnamed narrator telling a story about a friend suffering the consequences of, usually, some sort of insatiable curiosity. This one, "From Beyond," is closer to Jekyll & Hyde than most.

Back in the early 90s, there was a comic book, Dark Dominion, which dealt with the idea that there was a world of demons that overlapped our own. One man, Michael Alexander, was able to see these demons as they coexisted with us. It was a darkly interesting idea that ended way too soon. I don't know if Jim Shooter, the creator of the series, read Lovecraft, but you can see those same ideas in "From Beyond." I don't know of anyone earlier than Lovecraft writing about these kinds of things in this kind of way. This is not the only of Lovecraft's stories dealing with this idea, but this is the most direct, at least so far. It's short enough that I'm willing to say you should just read it.